Mafia III misses the target

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Dalton Stokes is a columnist for the Kentucky Kernel. 

Dalton Stokes

Mafia III is a game that should have been great. It had an engaging story with fairly good characters, emotional and dark cinematics, and fantastic narrative framing, but this was all lessened by its generic and repetitive gameplay. 

Starting the game, I was instantly captivated by the story and the narrative framing of the game. It is centered around a black Vietnam veteran named Lincoln Clay, whose family runs the black mob in New Bordeaux, based on New Orleans. The story is told through interviews of a black minister, who is close to Clay at the time, by an FBI agent investigating the events surrounding Clay’s return from the war. This added an extra layer of mystery to the story, as the player doesn’t know why this agent is interested in Clay or what he is being investigated for. 

The first six hours of gameplay, I was completely hooked. I continued to play because I simply wanted to see what happened next. Then, as I got past the fast-paced introduction to the game, I began losing interest. Important cinematics became fewer and farther between and I felt less excitement driving me to get to the next major plot point. The gameplay became the downfall of the game.

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Players continue playing a game for two main reasons: because they enjoy the plot and want to see what comes next or because the gameplay is fun, interesting and challenging. These two things usually work together to keep the player engaged, and good games incorporate both in an interactive and enjoyable way. 

The problem with Mafia III is that the gameplay is so repetitive and menial that it doesn’t feel worth it to trudge through to the next major plot point, and the plot points are so far apart it’s like a running marathon to see what happens next. 

The biggest redeeming factors of this game are the layers of depth to the story, and the general authenticity of the environment. The game does a great job of captivating the aesthetic of the time period and the pre- and post-Vietnam mindset of Americans at that time. The developers’ use and choice of music is also effective in helping immerse the player in the spirit of the time period. 

In addition, the game does a good job at presenting commentary about racism in the deep south at the time. From police making catcalls at black women to people actually being taken from Africa to be sold into slavery in backroom auctions, the game paints a disturbing picture of what went on in the deep south. Much of the presentation of racism through the game is easy for the player to miss because it is presented in subtleties such as conversations on the street and radio casts.

Altogether, I think Mafia III was worth playing, but the stark contrast between such artistic storytelling and stale repetitive gameplay is what kept a good game from being a great game. 

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